Three years ago, I went on the road with my pals in Widow on their U.S. tour supporting German thrash institution Destruction. At the time, Widow were breaking in a new drummer, Jason Wheeler. Jason and I became fast friends on that tour, and I always looked forward to the part of the night when he and I would grab a beer, go up front and thrash out to Destruction. Unfortunately, things didn’t work for Jason in Widow, but he and I have remained friends and I’ve followed his career with great interest. Jason is a thrash drummer at heart, so it’s no surprise that his current musical endeavors showcase that side of his playing. Gross Reality are a North Carolina-based thrash/speed metal band whose roots date back to the early 1990s, although the band was inactive from roughly 1996 until 2009. All three members (Jason Wheeler on drums, Roland Arthur on guitar, and Daniel Powell on bass/vocals) were with Gross Reality at (or very near) the beginning, and are still thrashing it out on the band’s brand-new second album, Escaping Gravity, out on Divebomb Records.
The sticker on the CD proclaims “The Fury of Speed Metal” and recommends Gross Reality to fans of Powermad, Gama Bomb, Annihilator and Havok. I get all of that. On tracks like “Dimensional,” “Into the Vault” and the truly exceptional “Zero Day,” Gross Reality display a penchant for frantic tempos, razor-sharp riffing, clear emotive vocals, and strong melodic sensibilities. But Escaping Gravity is more nuanced, sophisticated and multi-dimensional than you might expect from reading that description. Particularly on “The Invitation” and the title track, Gross Reality capture a mysterious, dark, delicate, almost progressive vibe, sort of the musical equivalent of being lost in space or abducted by aliens, conforming to the obscure sci-fi lyrical content and cover art but stepping outside the confines of the “speed metal” stylistic box. Honestly, I prefer it when the band is hammering away at warp speed, but that other side of their sound lends a sense of light and shade, depth and dynamics to Escaping Gravity that works well in listening to the album as a whole. The raging thrash tunes seem all the more intense when set alongside the calmer, quieter, more introspective pieces. On “Event Horizon,” Gross Reality essentially merge all of these stylistic elements into a single song, with impressive results.
The band name that kept popping into my head as I listened to Escaping Gravity was Prototype from Los Angeles. It would not surprise me in the slightest if the members of Gross Reality had never heard a note of Prototype’s music; after all, the latter act is fairly obscure. But Prototype (featuring guitarist Kragen Lum, who fills in brilliantly for Gary Holt in Exodus when Holt’s Slayer commitments conflict with Exodus gigs) have that same kind of progressive thrash / sci-fi themed sound that Gross Reality do. Even the vocals of Gross Reality’s Daniel Powell bear similarity to Prototype’s Vince Levalois. Again, not suggesting at all that either band is copying (or even aware of) the other, just pointing out what I think may be a helpful comparison for pinning down Gross Reality’s somewhat esoteric style. Also, to be clear, Gross Reality definitely have more hammer-down speedy moments than Prototype do, as Lum and Levalois tend to reserve their thrashiest ideas for their pure thrash band, Psychosis.
Ultimately, what we have on Escaping Gravity is a well-executed slab of speed/thrash metal leavened by dashes of progressive sci-fi quirkiness. The eight-song, 37-minute album is an enjoyable, even cathartic listen, boasting an array of emotions. I know the label has been pushing the track “Zero Day” as a single, and with good reason. It’s an incredible speed monster that definitely deserves your time and attention. Check it out on YouTube, and if “Zero Day” clicks with you and you don’t mind occasional forays into less adrenaline-fueled realms, then Escaping Gravity might be just the thing your music collection needs right now.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~